Top Five (alphabetical order):
- American Masters: Mike Nichols (Elaine May). The only film on my list by an old master — hence the only one not concerned to some degree with the morality of solipsism — this TV documentary, like May’s four previous fiction features, shows an exquisite balance between personal appreciation and criticism, which is another way of saying that her films are populated exclusively by monsters whom she adores. (Note: This was erroneously listed here as Becoming Mike Nichols until Adrian Martin alerted me to the error. My apologies to everyone!)
- Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater). If that second exclamation point seems immoderate, this is Linklater’s very Texan way of informing us that immoderation is something to be celebrated, even from a moderate point of view.
- Fire at Sea/Fuocoammare (Gianfranco Rosi). Like La La Land, I caught up with this too late to have included it on my end-of-the-year lists for Film Comment, Indiewire, and Sight and Sound, which also suggests I’m still in the process of sizing it up. The coexistence of everydayness and disaster on a Sicilian island is what makes this Italian documentary seem most contemporary.
- John From (João Nicolao). My jury at Filmadrid gave this Portuguese comedy our top prize. Halfway between Everybody Wants Some!! and La La Land in terms of exuberance, it has more filmic ideas than either when it comes to illustrating or formulating its youthful fantasies.
- La La Land (Damien Chazelle). Everyone, myself included, got this post-musical wrong by comparing it to Jacques Demy when it’s thematically and emotionally much closer to John Cassavetes’ Too Late Blues—and perhaps even more traumatized in its meditations on the costs of “success” and “selling out” by virtue of its would-be “happy ending”. Retroactively, this even comes close to justifying Whiplash, at least in auteurist terms. Best First Film: People That Are Not Me (Hadas ben Aroya). This scruffy and perfectly titled Israeli sex comedy, whose young writer-director is also its star–another one of my jury’s prizewinners (in this case, at Mar del Plata)—illustrates the imprisoning confusions of liberation at least as well as La La Land, with a fraction of the same budget. A significant film from my own country: Paterson (Jim Jarmusch). Only Jarmusch could have come up with the ridiculous yet precious conceit that everyone in the United States is a closet artist of one sort or another—a creepy yet tantalizing notion to consider as our closest equivalent to a famous failed German house painter has just been elected President.
Note: the requested photo is by Chema Prado